Sam Charette is 25 years old and trying to become a homeowner. However, as Charette builds his home, Teton County is realizing it will have to grapple with Charette’s unconventional style of dwelling becoming more common.
“We wanted to get something we could afford,” Charette said of deciding to build a yurt. “We haven’t been on a vacation in five years because of rent.”
But it’s not just rent. It’s groceries, ridiculously high cost of electric and the overall cost of living that kept Charette and his partner, Alicia Parsons, from being able to do anything except work and pay bills. Charette runs Wrap and Roll with his parents and Parsons works in the school district. Both grew up in Teton Valley.
So Charette started looking into options. He considered a shipping container home and an earth ship, but settled on a yurt, a kind of round tent with a slightly peaked roof. Yurts were in fact home to many nomadic peoples in central Asia and small groups continue to carry their housing with them across the Asian Steppe.
The funny thing about yurts is that they can represent many things—yippy-ish eco-friendly living, high-end glamping, or barely legal affordable housing.
While Charette is trying to stay off the grid to avoid the expense of fees and utility bills, he’s not trying to evade county regulations. He submitted the specs of his yurt to Tom Davis, the county building inspector, and has also inquired about electricity, though the extension cords he’s using right now are legal he said. But really, Charette has nothing to avoid because the county has no ordinances specific to yurts.
Wendy Danielson, land use services specialist, brought the subject up to the Board of County Commissioners at their meeting on Mon., Sept., 23. She told the BOCC about complaints registered against Charette’s yurt by his neighbors to the north and residents in the Teton Saddleback Vistas neighborhood. Danielson said the county’s current policy is not to permit yurts because they are classified as membrane structures, in most cases they cannot meet international building codes and if septic or electric systems do go in, state regulations monitor those installations. However, they are not disallowed and Danielson told the commissioners it’s a subject they should think about addressing. She and Davis have seen a general increase in the use of yurts not as temporary dwellings, but as single-family homes.
Davis said they may still only see three or four yurts come through the planning office, but he has noticed a change. Although, he has seen abandoned yurts collapse under snow load after the heat of the fire stopped melting the snow, many modern yurts would be able to pass a building inspection.
Charette’s yurt is a good example. To handle the Teton climate, he went for the deluxe version, a yurt with the full snow and wind package.
“It’s built better than most houses,” he said.
He said it’s rated to withstand 255 mile an hour winds and all the snow dumped on the Valley. The round, wide hut sits on a platform and inside are redwood hard floors and crisscross latticing that give the large room a charm that speaks of home.
Charette and Parsons also have the advantages of modern technology. A thin layer of insulation hides under the vinyl cover. The material looks like shiny, crisp aluminum. Astronauts call it Reflectix and have it in their space suits, according to Charette. The shine reflects the cold from outside back to the outdoors and the heat inside the yurt inward. Charette said NASA employed the material because it would take seven feet of fiberglass insulation to have the same effect as an inch of Refelctix. Charette is also adding a layer of fiberglass insulation sealed by a layer of Reflectix to the floor.
However, affordable is relative. Charette has seen everything from pods of conjoining yurts that create multi-room complexes to floorless yurts of simple canvas. Just a pipe for the wood stove that would act as central heating costs $1,000, according to Charette. That’s no small price tag for the couple building the their yurt paycheck by pay check. A quick Google search showed basic yurts costing around $5,000 to $10,000, but Charette only found one bank that would lend him the money to buy it and then only at an interest rate of 27 percent. Luckily, an uncle came to the rescue and loaned the couple what they needed to get started on their own cozy dwelling.
Charette is doing the work himself. He and two others erected the round hut in just eleven hours; but, he had no idea anyone objected to his home.
The yurt is across Hwy 33 from Teton Saddleback Vistas and at the intersection of 35000S. His family owns the acre behind the house, but Charette said he placed the yurt closer to the road to avoid having to build a path into the field. People have stopped to ask what he’s building, sometimes have taken pictures, but overall the response was positive. With so much curiosity, Charette spread the word that he plans to host an open house when the interior is ready for public viewing.
He was surprised that not only complaints but also pictures of his yurt and the construction process were on file in the county’s planning office.
“It’s really creepy that people were taking pictures and never came up to us,” Charette said.
He and Parsons purposely choose a dark a dark green yurt to blend with the environment. Danielson told the BOCC that part of the complaint against the yurt was that they don’t pay impact fees. While a yurt may have surprised the eyes of his neighbors, Charette, who has lived here since he was 10 years old, said he used to look out on a wide field instead of a neighborhood of empty mansions.
But Parson and Charette don’t want to leave the yurt by the highway forever.
“It’s a dream,” Parsons said of their long-range plan, to pay off the yurt and then buy a piece of land they can migrate to. Then they will slowly add solar panels and other more permanent pieces of eco-friendly housing. But for now, they are dealing with the realities of making it work on the land available to them—a lot-sized portion of Charette’s parents’ property.
However, Charette and Parsons have had experiences with their yurt that Asians nomads likely wouldn’t conceive of.
But what is a new problem for Teton County, Id., was addressed in Teton County, Wyo., years ago. In fact a yurt village, grandfathered in because it pre-existed many mansions and regulations, still exists in Kelly, Wyo.
In 2000, Geneen Marie Haugen wrote an essay in High Country News about her stint, a decade before, living in teepee in Kelly near the yurt community. For Haugen and others such as nurses and service industry workers of the booming resort town, it was affordable housing.
TVN en Español
Sam Charette está viviendo en una casa interesante. Se llama yurt, un tipo de tienda de campaña que los nómadas en Asia central usaron. Varios grupos todavía las utilizan. Pero, su popularidad está aumentando entre muchas personas hoy día. Se emplean yurts para glamping (camping lujoso), como una vivienda ecológica y como una casa barata. Los yurts modernos son más fuertes que un tienda de campaña típico. El yurt de Charette puede soportar vientos hasta 255 millas por hora y todo el nieve que hay en Teton Valley por invierno. El condado de Teton Valley está considerando hacer regulaciones cerca a yurts.